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UN refugee agency pays tribute to slain humanitarian relief workers

UN refugee agency pays tribute to slain humanitarian relief workers

Honouring colleagues who have lost their lives while carrying out their work, the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called for more international efforts to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and the millions of people they help around the world.

"A year ago this month, UNHCR experienced the darkest period in its entire 50-year history when four of our colleagues were brutally murdered within two weeks," High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said. "Six months later, another UNHCR staff member was killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, as we honour our slain friends and co-workers, I must also declare my continuing anger and frustration that true justice has not yet been served in any of these tragic cases."

The High Commissioner, other senior UNHCR officials and members of the agency's Staff Council gathered in front of Geneva's Palais des Nations to light a candle and place flowers in tribute to all humanitarian workers who have lost their lives. UNHCR staff and others are also collecting funds for a permanent memorial in front of the agency's Geneva headquarters.

In a statement issued today, the agency said it was particularly disturbed by the light sentences given by a Jakarta court to six men in connection with the killing last year of the three UNHCR staff members in Atambua, West Timor. The men were given sentences ranging from 10 to 20 months for the 6 September 2000 killings of Pero Simundza, Samson Aregahegn and Carlos Caceres. The sentences were recently upheld by a Jakarta appeals court.

The brutality of the murders - the victims were hacked to death and their bodies burned - shocked the international community and led to the evacuation of UN and other aid workers from West Timor.

Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen, who was in Indonesia earlier this month when the appeals court announced its decision, said the light sentences made a mockery of the international community's insistence that justice be done in this horrific case. The outcome sent "exactly the wrong message to others who may now think they can kill humanitarian workers with impunity," he said.

Naveed Hussain, Chairman of UNHCR's Staff Council, said the agency's message to governments was clear. "If you want us to continue saving lives, you must protect our own," he said.